I served two terms on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (1983 to 1989), and am pleased with the constructive policy decisions we made with respect to several air pollution issues including asbestos, fireplaces and wood stoves, and visibility. However, I am very disappointed by their leap into controlling CO2 emissions, and their inaccurately narrow view of what is climate change.
The 2010-2011 Report to the Public of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission has a summary of their program to monitor and regulate CO2 emissions. With respect to these emissions, the Report has the following text [highlight added]
New state and federal regulations took effect in 2011 that require some of Colorado’s largest industries to obtain permits if their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are above a certain level. GHGs have been linked to climate change, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found, through a series of court and agency actions, that GHGs qualify as an “air pollutant” under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and pose a threat to public health and welfare. Subsequently, new emissions standards for automobiles were promulgated, followed by federal GHG reporting and permitting rules for stationary sources.
The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission incorporated the federal GHG permitting requirements into the state’s permitting program on October 21, 2010. Certain large industrial sources of GHGs began submitting permit applications to the Air Pollution Control Division in 2011. Under the permitting program, the sources may need to limit their emissions of GHGs or utilize emission control equipment known as Best Available Control Technology.
The GHG permitting program falls under the federal “tailoring rule,” so called because the GHG emission thresholds are “tailored” to apply to only the largest sources of GHGs, such as power plants, refineries, and cement production facilities. The large facilities covered by the tailoring rule are responsible for about 70 percent of GHG emissions, which are primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), though there are a number of other less prevalent regulated GHGs.
Without the modification to permit threshold level incorporated into the tailoring rule, many smaller sources of GHGs would have been subject to permit requirements, such as schools, restaurants and farms, all of which emit GHGs. The GHG permitting requirements are being phased in to allow industry time to analyze their emissions and comply with the new regulations.During the first half of 2011, large sources that already had applied for permits for other non-GHG pollutants were required to include their GHG emissions in the analysis. During the second half, all sources that emit 100,000 tons per year of CO2 equivalent are potentially required to obtain a permit for their GHG emissions, however, in July 2011, the EPA deferred for a period of three years, permitting requirements for CO2 emissions from bioenergy and other biogenic sources, including landfills, some agricultural operations and electric energy utilities burning biomass.
In my view, this approach to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the same manner as with the “traditional air pollutants” such as SO2, nitrogen oxides, lead, etc is a very major expansion to a different class of environmental issues. Unlike the “traditional air pollutants”, which have no positive benefits, CO2 does as it is utilized by vegetation as part of its growth and health. While it certainly is a first-order climate effect with both biophysical and biogeochemical effects (some of which may not be desirable), to include climate forcings into the air pollution regulatory framework is a very substantial widening of their authority over business and the public.
I have discussed the issue of CO2 as a “pollutant” in past weblog posts; e.g. see